ZANE VISITS: THE HEATHER
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
We moved here from Toronto in May. We were looking at doing a project in Hamilton for about 3 years; it was just about finding the way to do it, with just my wife and I. We did about a 6-month build out and we offer a 7 course tasting menu 3 nights a week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The coffee shop is a new addition, kind of to help compliment the guys next door, MOTEL, Wednesday to Sunday. Myself, I was born in Bellville, moved all around Ontario. Most of my career has been spent in Toronto, a little time in Banff and the Kawarthas and Prince Edward County. My last position was executive chef at Portland Variety. I’ve worked long enough for other people that I wanted to do my own thing.
Why did you choose Hamilton?
Big draws were the emerging food scene and commutability. My wife works for Ryerson so she needs to get into the city. It’s close enough but still far enough away that real estate is much more affordable. It’s much easier for a young chef to venture out on my own. I knew I couldn’t have business partners, there wouldn’t be a large enough slice of the pie, we’d have to do a much bigger place than this and I didn’t want that. I wanted very small, because I like to connect with each table. Hamilton provided that perfect storm.
What is the direction of the food?
Food wise, I call it modern Canadian. I’m influenced by who I have worked for in my career, heavily trained in French, but I draw a little from my British descent. Basically the ingredients decide the dish, what’s seasonal.
Who is the clientele? Is it mostly couples or groups?
It’s a bit of everything. One seating, 7:30, 12 people. A lot of deuces. Once the lights are down it’s definitely moody.
Do you have any highlight spots in the country?
I’m a big fan of Edulis in Toronto, I love what they are doing. We had dinner at a place in Niagara-on-the-Lake called Backhouse and it was unreal, they cook over live fire. It’s a tasting menu as well. There's a little place out in Nova Scotia called The Bite House that does 3 nights a week and they are seasonal. They only operate 8 months out of the year and they have built a restaurant in their house. In Tdot, I drink all over the place, where booze is cold and bartenders are friendly.
What made you want to have a small-scale place?
A lot of the restaurants I have come from are larger places. I'm just done with the stress of cooking for 300 people. I wanted to get back to a place without staff and focus. It sounds tacky, but like an artist discovering. A lot of the stuff I am doing is new to me so I can't teach because I am teaching myself. And the intimacy of it. I want to connect with guests. It's something I think is missing from a lot of places. People aren’t connected with the person who is making their food and that is just weird to me. You wouldn’t go to your friend’s house and not talk to them while they are cooking. I wanted to get back to the grassroots of cooking, which is one person cooking for a dining room.
It’s all farm to table?
80% is local. Everything I can. Local but Canadian as well. From the west coast I want certain things. As much local as possible, but Canadian because I can’t limit myself.
Who did the interior?
My wife and I. I guess I’ve had the feel of the space in my head since I started my career. The name of the restaurant is after my mom. She passed when I was 14. She was a shit cook but an amazing host. Her kitchen was always filled with friends and laughter and love and we wanted to fill this space with that. If I think, “if mom designed a restaurant what would it look like?”, this was it. She loved white and simple. So that’s the name and the inspiration. She was always encouraging of this career. The year she passed away was the year I decided I wanted to be a cook. She was super encouraging. A friend of our family was a chef and she got me in their kitchen to see what it was about. I always knew if I had a place of my own it would be in honor of her. Our logo is basically her signature, inspired by that.
The coffee started when?
There’s nowhere in the neighborhood for coffee and MOTEL gets lines on weekends, so we wanted somewhere to compliment what they’re doing and have somewhere for those people to spill over into. The neighborhood has been crying out for a coffee joint and people know my cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies. They are legendary.
If you asked me 2 years ago if I would have my own place I wouldn’t have believed you. My goal was always to have my own spot by 35, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. Standing in my own place, sometimes it just feels so surreal; this can't be my own place. It’s Toronto’s Brooklyn. I don’t care how much Hamiltonians hate hearing that. Hamiltonians hate that comparison, “Were just Hamilton not Toronto’s Brooklyn.” The lay of the land and the history is very similar. I am looking forward to seeing what happens over the next five years. They need more trains and I think that will explode downtown. It is exciting to see how things are going to change.
Why did you select to be on Barton?
I wanted to stand alone. I have seen a few neighborhoods undergo incredible change because of one restaurant taking a chance. Foxley on Ossington made Ossington, man. Joe Beef did that for Little Burgundy, it was a rough area of town. Same story: prostitutes out front, crack heads all over the street and 10 years later Little Burgundy is one of the hottest areas in Montreal. It’s not that we expect to do that; it just feels more authentic, opening where people have to venture out of their comfort zone to come to. If we are busy in a neighborhood like this, it means we are doing something good, whereas if I open where the boom is already happening, the business is built in and I can't really gauge whether it is me or not. That was important to me. We didn’t displace anyone. This building was derelict. So despite the local anarchist group that hates us, this is good gentrification.